By Walt Hickey
Welcome back! Hope you had a nice weekend.
The African swine fever roiling China’s hog industry is entering into an unprecedented scope, with Rabobank expecting Chinese pork production losses of 25 percent to 35 percent. It’s affecting somewhere between 150 million and 200 million pigs, and no level of protein replacement or importing can fill that production shortfall. Recovery could take years due to breeding herd losses and extreme losses of 50 percent are expected in some parts of China. That 30 percent of pork production is equivalent to Europe’s entire annual pork supply and is 30 percent larger than the entire U.S. hog production. It’ll cause a 10 million metric ton shortfall in the 2019 animal protein supply.
Apple’s iCloud “activation lock” can brick a cell phone, which is a very nice security measure but also means that a massive number of recyclable or reusable cell phones have to be scrapped for parts because iCloud lock was enabled on the devices. From 2015 to 2018, the Wireless Alliance collected about 6 million cell phones to be recycled, of which 333,519 were iPhones deemed to be in reusable condition. Of those, 33,000 were iCloud locked and had to be scrapped for parts rather than refurbished and reused. The issue is that the number of such phones is on the rise. In 2015 only 11 percent of devices were disabled in such a way, but in 2018 24 percent were, posing a potential recycling problem.
April 20 is the marijuana holiday. It used to be that you didn’t have to really care about stoner observations, but now that marijuana sales are a matter studied extensively by state Departments of Revenue and even investors looking into publicly traded securities, you can find sales forecasts on Bloomberg terminals. Sales were up 111 percent on 4/20 in 2018 compared to similar Fridays, and that’s a huge pop. For comparison, beer sales only rise around the Fourth of July about 33 percent compared to typical sales.
About 82 percent of Americans check product reviews before buying an item, and 65 percent of them trust them, but fake reviews are a big problem. Comparing reviews flagged as trustworthy or untrustworthy, there can be wide differences in quality for some classes of items. The average untrustworthy review for a set of headphones was 4.89 stars, while the average trustworthy one was 3.99, a gap of 0.90. That’s a massive gap, but other categories can be distressingly wide too, including cell phone accessories (0.79 point gap between specious and real reviews), pet supplies (0.40 point gap) and romance books (0.30 points).
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The new Hellboy movie is a setback for the franchise, making merely $12 million in its opening weekend. The previous two installments — directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman — were hardly box office juggernauts themselves, making domestic box office totals of only $59 million and $76 million, respectively. The producers, hearing the siren call of “reboot,” jettisoned del Toro and Perlman and moved forward with the franchise, but it’s backfired fairly spectacularly and only weeks before Avengers: Endgame is all but guaranteed to mop up for a few weeks. A rough launch for Hellboy plus the cancellation of Preacher and Netflix acquisition of Lucifer made last week a real roller coaster of emotions for fans of late-90s gritty, religious fantasy Vertigo and Dark Horse comics properties.
J.Crew is in decline, owing creditors $2 billion. However, it also owns Madewell, and is considering going public with the brand through an IPO which couuld plausibly solve their debt problem. J.Crew has over 500 stores and earned $1.8 billion in revenue last year, down from $2.2 billion four years ago. Madewell on the other hand is on the rise, making $529 million last year from 120 locations. Spinning it off could help J.Crew ease their debt load while they wait for the trend pendulum to swing on back to preppy.
Tiger Woods won the Masters for the fifth time, notching his 15th major championship. He’s now just a hair behind Jack Nicklaus’s 6 Masters and 18 majors. Woods’s tour-de-force performance also meant lots of people made lots of money gambling on him, given his 12-to-1 odds bookmakers assigned him to win at Augusta. One bettor at a William Hill sportsbook dropped $85,000 on Woods at 14-to-1, which means they’ll get $1.19 million, the largest single golf ticket in the bookmaker’s history.
Delta Air Lines will cut the recline on their seats in coach from 4 inches to 2 inches on Airbus A320 jets. The recline depth up in first class will also be shortened from 5.5 inches to 3.5 inches. The reclinability of seats on an aircraft — which at its heart comes down to allowing one customer to make a unilateral decision to moderately inconvenience another in the pursuit of their own comfort — has been controversial before and led to all sorts of incidents in the air, and is exacerbated by seat space continuing to shrink across the board thanks to airline decisions. Delta’s experiment, based on people’s increasing use of laptops, is still in testing and only on shorter domestic flights.
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